Shock horror: first Ragdoll cats were like ragdolls because they were drugged!

What can I say? I am horrified. But I am not surprised. Sarah Hartwell, the internet’s doyenne of cat fancy history, has a shocking snippet of information regarding the early days of the Ragdoll cat breed tucked away within one of her comprehensive articles. The Ragdoll cat breed history is convoluted and tortous thanks to the founder, the eccentric Ann Baker. I won’t go over it here except to mention some pertinent points.

Baker wanted to create a new breed of cat which was very sociable and relaxed. She wanted the cats to be docile and to have the characteristic of going limp when picked up.

Ragdoll cat Tom Cruise

Ragdoll cat Tom Cruise

I think this idea came from a Persian-Angora cat called Josephine who belonged to a neighbour. After a traffic accident Josephine’s offspring were docile. The accident is probably irrelevant to her kittens’ character but stories developed. The truth probably is that the male breeding cat was different and he had passed on his personality to the offspring.

Anyway Baker created the Ragdoll cat breed using a black Burmese type cat and a female who was an offspring of Josephine. Baker decided to control the breeding programme and created a franchise system whereby other breeders were charged a royalty for each kitten they sold.

Baker promoted the story that the new Ragdoll cats were docile because Josephine had been hit by a car which had mysteriously changed her and that Ragdolls were immune to pain.

Ragdoll plush toy

Ragdoll plush toy

Kay Hanvey who was involved in the creation of the TICA breed standard for Ragdoll cats provided this shocking story:

A couple working with Ann Baker breeding Ragdolls in the early days, Denny and GeorgeAnn Dayton, bought their cats from Baker. I guess that under the franchise agreement they had to buy special cat food prepared by Baker alone. Denny had the cat food analysed as he was a scientist. He discovered that it contained phenobarbital. This is a barbiturate. It is used to treat epilepsy in humans and it works by stabilising the brain’s electrical activity. It depresses the central nervous system. It helps people to relax and to sleep.

In short the drug gave the cats all the characteristics for which the Ragdoll is now famous: floppy and like ragdolls.  When the cats started on a normal diet they lost their laid back character. The Daytons had to work hard to create a cat who genuinely had a nice character.

This strange episode had an impact on the history of the Ragdoll. Ann Baker was not allowed to trademark the breed and TICA would not accept future Ragdolls from Baker.

I will presume that today’s Ragdoll cat breeders try very hard to breed for personality as well as appearance. They have to try and maintain that impossible, drug induced standard of years ago!

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Shock horror: first Ragdoll cats were like ragdolls because they were drugged! — 14 Comments

  1. Thanks for this shocking information, Michael. It just adds up to more of the same disgusting human behavior towards animals.
    Royal Canin makes various categories of food for different breeds, Ragdoll being one of them. I would never buy their brand or Hills, or several others. Truths are being revealed more and more these days, by brave whistle blowers. We are indebted to them….and you, for passing on vital information.

    • Thanks Sandy. I thought it was madness. It is! I hate to say it but cat breeders can tend to get up to some bizarre behaviour.

      • It’s all about money….

        I’ve posted this on FB, Pinterest, Twitter, my own CATAdvocate FB page and will send on to others such as Cat Centric, etc, so cat guardians can be more informed.

    • Let me clarify that the food was Ann Baker’s special food – not anything made by pet food manufacturers. In the USA at that time it was probably easier to get hold of various drugs.

  2. Oh, for heaven’s sake!!! There is no end to which people will go to screw up the psyche of any species on this earth or to screw up a new breed if it will make someone money!!!

  3. What sane person could drug a breed of cats by lacing their cat food with a barbiturate? And then stipulate this food was part of the contract for every cat they sold. Definitely a weird, sad story here.Thank goodness there was no way to continue this madness.

  4. Very sad, indeed.
    I wish that I could eradicate all breeders with the wave of my hand.
    When it comes to cat food though, don’t fall prey to the various “breed” formulas. Never believe that one or another companies have had experts determine the specific needs of ragdolls, siamese, etc. You are being lied to and paying out the nose.

  5. … and parents insist on telling their children there’s no such thing as monsters. I’m sure this article disagrees.

  6. Despite my bland comment on FB I think this at best deception and at worst fraud. There are several illegalities to be considered. The marketing and distributing of barbiturates without a license is one and another is marketing animals with a claimed natural behaviour when that behaviour is actually drug induced. This is actually criminal behaviour.

    • Let me clarify that the special food was Ann Baker’s and not anything made by pet food manufacturers and not on the open market. Unlike here in the UK, it seems that Americans can get registered with multiple general practice doctors and some do so in order to get multiple prescriptions (some of those patients sell their prescription drugs on the black market). In the USA at that time it was probably easier to get hold of various drugs.

  7. How does a car-accident change an animal’s DNA? But more importantly, why are so many millions of cat fans so gullible and ignorant to how it all works for it to have even gotten as far and as long as it did?

  8. Selling barbiturate-laced food to third parties is indistinguishable from selling on the open market and is illegal.

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